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Conway Enterprises.

Conway Enterprises

What would a volunteer fire chief, a spelunker and a history buff have in common with a thriving $14 million business?

Not much, unless you are talking about W. Fred Conway. Those avocations put him onto opportunities that he seized and used as a base to build Conway Enterprises of New Albany, a family-owned and -operated complex that includes "American's largest short-run label printer" and houses the offices and merchandise for Squire Boone Caverns & Village, a tourist attraction south of Corydon.

Conway's business as a manufacturer of pressure-sensitive labels has increased steadily, by 38 percent in the recession-ridden months of the first quarter of this year. When the company moved into its imposing plant in New Albany's industrial park in 1984, it had 55 employees. Today, it has 226 and expects to add about 40 a year to handle a projected increase in sales to $30 million by 1995. The plant was doubled in size last year and a new warehouse was added in June.

This burgeoning business with the humblest of beginnings - started by Conway and his wife with $100 in capital in the basement of their home - is a classic application of the find-a-need-and-fill-it formula for success.

In 1963, Conway was traffic manager for George Koch & Sons, and Evansville manufacturer of industrial equipment. In his spare time and during some of his working hours, he was chief of his township's volunteer fire department. One day he looked out the window of the station house to see a fire truck from the Evansville department headed for a fire in his township - an intrusion across city limits.

Conway and his fellow volunteers were as hot as any fire. They had worked ceaselessly to build and equip their department by soliciting donations from township residents on the promise of fire protection. Something had to be done to make sure residents called the township fire department rather than Evansville's.

The idea of sticking labels with the fire company's number on residents' telephones had been tried, but the labels kept falling off. One day a piece of ad copy with a brilliant red stick-on overlay came across Conway's desk. It was a self-sticking label, then a new concept. "This is it!" he thought.

Conway arranged with an Evansville print shop to produce fire-red fluorescent labels printed with fire, police and ambulance numbers. The labels were cut to fit so they would adhere to the cradle of a telephone. They were distributed to the 2,000 or so residences in the township. "It worked like a charm," he says. No more encroachment by alien firefighters.

Soon neighboring fire companies began making inquiries about the labels, but the printer wasn't interested in such short-run orders. That's when Conway's entrepreneurial intuition kicked in. He bought a small press and set up shop in his basement. Ads in fire journals brought in orders for phone stickers from fire departments all over the country, and forced Conway to expand operations and move from his basement into his garage.

When Conway and his wife, Betty, decided to move to New Albany in 1972, the label business went with them, expanded into new products, and outgrew two buildings. The "home safety" line went from phone stickers to barricade banners, specialty license plates, helmet stickers, emergency-vehicle ID signs, safety vests, badges and even books written by Conway on the history of fire alarms and fireboats and one on chemical fire engines.

Today, firefighting products represent only 2 percent of Conway Enterprises' business volume, but they have their appropriate place of honor in a museum of antique fire trucks and apparatus in the lobby of the Conway building.

Most label presses are not designed for short-run jobs, because setup time for such small orders reduces productivity. When Conway's son, Allen, joined the firm in 1977, he set about designing presses for high-volume, short-run jobs. The company's 30 presses now turn out labels to fill 3,250 orders each week, an output that gives Conway Enterprises a 32 percent share of the market. The closest of its three major competitors has a 21 percent share.

Allen, the firm's COO, heads the five-member research-and-development department and handles production. He is gradually taking over for his dad, who is still president and CEO but is cutting back to write the newsletter, watch over the finances and backstop Allen.

The Conway daughter, Wini, is vice president of administration, and her husband, Sol Arledge, is vice president of sales and marketing.

Many of Conway Enterprises' more than 20,000 dealers across the nation are quick-print shops, and much of the company's growth has paralleled the proliferation of fast-service, no-job-too-small printers. Though the quick-print trade has hit saturation level and growth has leveled off, Conway continues to increase sales volume by taking market share from its competitors, adding an estimated 300 new dealers a year. New uses for labels - such as for computer discs, audiocassettes and videotapes - keep demand high.

Conway's forte is customer service and quick turnaround time. A step-by-step, make-your-choice catalog and rapid processing by phone or fax makes ordering easy. A bank of 11 fax machines wired in series receives orders 24 hours a day, toll-free to customers. Fully 86 percent of orders leave the plant within 48 hours. This unequaled turnaround record amazed dealers at a trade show last fall in Toronto, a marketing stroke that enhanced Conway's move into Canada.

Conway's constantly growing work force is stimulated by a generous benefits package, free pizza when workers meet their production goals, an incentive plan, $100 savings bonds for each employee with perfect attendance during a quarter and random drawings each week for free meals at local restaurants.

And if that isn't enough motivation, the plant is located at the corner of Earnings Way and Profit Court.

But labels aren't Fred Conway's only life. He is one of those people who, when on the road, cannot drive by a cave attraction without stopping. An incurable spelunker, he long harbored a secret desire. "I always wanted to own a cave," he says.

His chance came when he discovered a spectacular cave near Buck Creek about 13 miles south of Corydon. It happened when the potential carrier of innumerable tourists, Interstate 64, was under construction. He got the 110-acre site for $150 an acre and set about building a road and a bridge and providing the lighting, walkways and other accoutrements of a commercial cave.

His research had turned up the cave's connection with Squire Boone, Daniel Boone's brother, an 11-times-wounded Indian fighter, trailblazer and captain in the Revolutionary War. The Boone brothers discovered the caverns in 1790 and later, Squire used the cave as a hideout to escape from an Indian raiding party. The site so intrigued Squire that he moved to it and built a gristmill powered by a spring flowing from the cave. When he died in 1815, his sons buried him in the cave at his request.

Such history ought to bring in the tourists, and it did, but not in sufficient numbers. At the time, Conway was preoccupied with his expanding business. Now comes youngest son, Rick, full of his father's enterprising spirit, to take over Squire Boone Caverns. He built a pioneer village of log cabins, set up craft demonstrations in each, added family activities such as a hayride, and promoted group tours.

Rick started a line of Squire Boone products - rock candy, fossil and mineral specimens, popcorn on the cob, and 23 different mixes for foods such as buckwheat pancakes and cookies. They are shipped nationwide and sold at tourist shops and centers such as Walt Disney World.

Squire Boone Caverns & Village is now a $4 million business, another of the successful Conway Enterprises.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Curtis Magazine Group, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:Profile: Regional Report South
Author:Spaid, Ora
Publication:Indiana Business Magazine
Article Type:company profile
Date:Jul 1, 1991
Previous Article:What are the odds?
Next Article:Pot calling the kettle blue.

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